January 2015
The Herb Lady

Dittany of Crete

Dittany of Crete (Origanum dictamus) is a tender perennial herb that grows approximately 8 inches in height. It is a beautiful and unusual plant, sometimes used as an external astringent and wound herb. Due to its trailing nature, it makes a wonderful basket plant. In fact, in my opinion, it does much better in a hanging basket than it does in the ground. Its half-inch leaves are densely covered with fine white hairs. It produces numerous pink flowers in drooping spikes. The leaves may be burned as incense.

Soon after my intense interest in herbs began, I purchased a dittany of Crete plant. I planted it in a hanging basket and tended it much as I did all my other herbs. This included watering practically every day, especially during hot summer weather. This one plant didn’t do well at all. It was sickly. In fact, it appeared to be dying. With intentions of destroying it, I moved it to the covered, but open air area where my flower pots and other equipment were stored. I forgot about it. It received no water at all for several weeks.

One day as I went to the storage area for some needed article, I was greeted by one of the most beautiful blooming plants I had ever seen. Bunches of flowers were hanging like grapes. Instead of being round like grapes, though, the single flowers were draped over each other much like a pinecone is formed. Needless to say, this plant was moved to a much more fitting location. I began to give it more attention with less water than I had previously provided. In return, it provided me with much pleasure for several years.

Crete is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Dittany of Crete grows wild on this island from which it is named. It is still used as a culinary herb, but its relatives – oregano, Greek oregano and sweet marjoram – serve this need with a much milder flavor.

My literary sources provide me with little information regarding the medicinal value of dittany. As stated above, it was once used as an external astringent and wound herb. The only common name I find for the plant is "Gas Plant" that could possibly be derived from one of its folklore health remedies.

Records state that dittany is still used as a ceremonial herb. This could be in the form of tea or incense.

Dittany of Crete can be propagated by seed or by cuttings. I found it more practical to purchase an established plant. It is doubtful local nurseries will offer this interesting herb for sale. However, it can be obtained from many of the herb nurseries which offer mail-order service.

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 866-570-7302, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..